Caring for Newborn Puppies and Their Mom


By Julia Williams

If your dog is pregnant and you’re wondering how to care for the puppies once they’re born, the good news is that most likely, all you’ll need to do is keep a watchful eye on the momma dog. Most canine mothers have a strong maternal instinct and can do a great job of caring for their newborn puppies by themselves. They will know how to keep their newborn puppies warm and well fed, and how to help them with waste elimination and hygiene. However, if the mother dog rejects her pups or cannot product enough milk for them, or you are caring for an orphan, then the puppies will need your help in order to survive and thrive.

Healthy newborn puppies look vibrant and strong, and their gums are pink. A puppy’s eyes should open approximately 10 to 14 days after birth. A newborn puppy’s body weight may double or even triple during the first few weeks, and gaining 10 to 15% of their birth weight daily is considered healthy. The puppies should nurse with enthusiasm, and they often twitch while asleep.

Be sure to consult your veterinarian immediately if you have any concerns about a pup’s health. Treating a sick puppy early can mean the difference between life and death. Warning signs include failure to nurse, constant crying, weakness, difficulty breathing, poor weight gain, temperature drop, diarrhea, vomiting, listlessness, sneezing, coughing, and nasal discharge.

It’s also important to monitor hydration in newborn puppies. To do this, gently pinch the skin on the back of the neck into a “tent.” If a puppy is properly hydrated, the skin will go back into place immediately. If the pinched skin stays creased, the puppy is dehydrated and will need to be treated immediately.

Newborn puppies cannot regulate their own body temperature, so guard against chilling by keeping the pups indoors, off cold floors, and in a warm, draft-free room. The puppies get their best heat from the mom dog, but if you have orphans your room temperature should be on the warm side for the first month. Indirect heat from warm water bottles or heat lamps may also be used. After 4 weeks, supplemental heat shouldn’t be needed.

During the first week, a puppy’s normal temperature is between 95-98°F. The pup’s temperature increases gradually each day until four weeks of age, when it should be close to the normal temperature for an adult dog (100.5 to 102.5°F).

A large pet carrier lined with soft towels makes a nice bed for newborn puppies and their Mom. For orphans and pups with no litter mates, you might want to place a stuffed animal inside the carrier, to keep them company and provide some heat.

A mother dog’s milk provides everything newborn puppies need nutritionally during their first four weeks of life. Nursing also provides newborn puppies with antibodies to help prevent infections. If you’re caring for an orphaned pup, it’s important to consult with your veterinarian on the proper way to bottle-feed them. Your vet can also give you a recommendation on which commercial canine milk replacer to use.

In their first few weeks of life, puppies need to nurse (or be bottle fed) about every two hours. As they grow, the time between feedings gradually increases. At approximately four weeks of age, puppies can start to transition from nursing to eating solid food. Usually, weaning will be completed by approximately 6 to 8 weeks of age.

Because newborn puppies do not spontaneously eliminate waste on their own for the first month, the mother dog stimulates them through licking. If the mom is ill or absent, you’ll need to help them with this. It may not be one of the most pleasant tasks of caring for a newborn puppy, but it is vital to their health. Using a warm, moist washcloth or piece of gauze, gently massage the puppy’s genital/anal area before and after their feedings. If you’re unsure about the proper technique, please consult with your vet.

As tempting as it is to hold and hug your adorable newborn puppies, it is best for them if you don’t do it more than a few times a day. And when you do, it should be for a very short time (a minute or two at most). Children should never be allowed to handle the puppies without adult supervision, and you should also take care not to upset the mom dog when handling them.

Speaking of the mom dog, it’s a good idea to have her examined by your vet within 24 hours after giving birth, to ensure that everything went well. Remember too, a nursing mom’s nutritional needs are greater than normal when feeding a litter of puppies. Be sure to keep plenty of fresh water nearby, and provide a high quality dog food such as CANIDAE, divided into three daily feedings. Your vet may also recommend a dietary supplement to assist with milk production.

This article is intended only as general guidance on caring for newborn puppies. It’s very important to consult your veterinarian with specific questions and any concerns you may have about your newborn pups and/or their mom.

Read more articles by Julia Williams

The personal opinions and/or use of trade, corporate or brand names, is for information and convenience only. Such use does not constitute an endorsement by CANIDAE® All Natural Pet Foods of any product or service. Opinions are those of the individual authors and not necessarily of CANIDAE® All Natural Pet Foods.

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3 thoughts on “Caring for Newborn Puppies and Their Mom

  1. my dog ( a Pitbull) had her first litter of pups three days ago but she is really over protective. She keeps pulling them under her. One got stifled the first day and since then i'm trying to monitor her half hour but she seems agitated that i'm there constantly. What should I do.

  2. my dog just had a litter of 9 two days ago and i think one of the puppies sneezes every now and then should i be concerned

  3. In terms of dehydration, this can be even more of a problem in larger litters and hotter climates. Other than the skin pinch test, you should also look for lethargy, sunken eyes, dry nose and/or mouth. Using a puppy milk replacer like Esbilac if you start to see any of these symptoms (or in hot climates and with large litters) is a good way to help prevent/treat dehydration.

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